Pool Heating Systems Comparison

Which type of pool heating system is best for me? There are three basic types of pool heating systems. The best system for your pool is determined by numerous factors including your needs, desires, budget and physical layout of the pool and house. The answers to many of these questions are discussed below.

Performance & Use | How Does It Work | System & Installation Cost
Energy Rating & Efficiency | Cost of Operation | Size Heater Required
Longevity & Maintenance | Do-it-yourself Installation Kits

Solar Pool Heaters Heat Pump Heaters Gas Heaters

Performance & Use

Solar Pool Heaters are best for recreational pool use and are recommended for those who are comfortable with pool temperatures ranging from the low to mid 80's. Solar works year round in southern climates, and extends the season in northern climates. There may be periods during inclement weather that the pool is too cool to use; however, several sunny days will bring the pool back to a comfortable temperature. Proper sizing is critical for good performance.

Performance & Use

For those who enjoy swimming regardless of the weather, a Heat Pump is the recommended method.  It is also the preferred method for therapy or athletic trainers, and also when a home is not ``solar feasible" (i.e. solar will not fit on roof.)  A heat Pump, when properly sized, can maintain any desired pool temperature between 80 and 90 degrees, regardless of outside weather conditions.  A Heat Pump will work when the outside air temperature is above 45 degrees.

Performance & Use

Gas is best for heating pools for short periods of time. Gas Pool Heaters are effective, but expensive to operate.  They are ideal for quickly heating the pool when guests or children are visiting, or for a second home where the pool is not heated on a regular basis. Gas Heaters are generally over-sized and can easily maintain any desired temperature regardless of the weather. It is also an ideal heater or backup heater for a spa.

Solar Pool Heaters

Heat Pump Heaters

Gas Heaters

How Does It Work?

Solar Heaters utilize the sun's free heat and do not have an operating cost.  Your existing pool pump circulates the water through the heater, usually located on the roof, and warms the pool.  The pump timer is set to operate during sunlight hours, usually 9am to 5pm.

How Does It Work?

A Heat Pump uses electricity to operate.  They are actually a form of solar heater, as the sun-warmed air contributes to the efficiency of these units. This heat is extracted from the air, upgraded with a compressor, and then transferred to the water.

How Does It Work?

Gas Heaters use natural or propane fuel. The gas is burned in a combustion chamber where the heat is transferred to the pool water. Operation requires a storage tank for propane gas, or hookup to natural gas, where available.  


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Solar Pool Heaters

Heat Pump Heaters

Gas Heaters

System and Installation Cost

System kit cost range:
$1000 - $4000

Installation cost:
$250 - $900

Typical 15x30 pool:
$2000 Kit
$2450 Installed

System and Installation Cost

System unit cost range:
 $2000 - $4000

Installation cost:
$150 - $750

Typical 15x30 pool:
$2500 Unit
$3200 Installed

System and Installation Cost

System unit cost range:
$1000 - $1500

Installation cost:
$150 - $850

Typical 15x30 pool:
$1200 Unit
$1500 Installed

Solar Pool Heaters

Heat Pump Heaters

Gas Heaters

Energy Rating & Efficiency

Solar panels are rated by FSEC (Florida Solar Energy Center) in BTU's per SqFt. The higher the BTU, the more heat output. The average output is 900 to 1000 BTU's. This equates to a 3 to 7% difference between different brands.  To determine the best value, divide the total cost by the total SqFt of panel. The lower the cost per SqFt, the better the value.

Energy Rating & Efficiency

Heat Pumps are not rated by any governing body.  The manufacturer determines the BTU output at a specific water/air temperature and relative humidity value. To accurately compare one unit to another, these test values must be the same, or the comparison will be distorted.  Heat pumps are also given a COP (coefficient of performance) rating, generally 3 to 6 COP, which converts to an efficiency of 300 to 600%.

Energy Rating & Efficiency

Gas Heaters are rated in BTU output, and are tested by government standards.  Their efficiency ranges from 60 to 80%. Efficiency may decrease over a period of time due to scaling in the burner or heat exchanger.

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Solar Pool Heaters

Heat Pump Heaters

Gas Heaters

Cost of Operation

Solar is an alternative energy source, and has no cost of operation. The pool pump must run for the solar heater to function, and may increase your electric bill by $30 to $75 per year depending on your normal filtering time.

Cost of Operation

Due to their high efficiency, heat pumps have a low cost of operation. Typically, for every 20 cents of electric input, you receive $1.00 worth of heat. The typical pool averages $250 to $500 per year for heat.

Cost of Operation

The low efficiency of gas heaters result in a high cost of operation. $1.00 worth of heat requires $1.20 or more of fuel.  The typical pool averages $1000 to $1500 per year for heat with propane.  Natural gas is approximately 50% less.

Solar Pool Heaters

Heat Pump Heaters

Gas Heaters

Size Heater Required

Generally you will need a system equal to 50 to 100% of the pool surface.  Solar panels are available in 4x8, 4x10, 4x12 and custom sizes. They are generally placed in a row on one or several roofs. A typical 7 4x12 panel system would require a space of 12.5 ft by 29 ft.

Size Heater Required

Heat pump sizes are rated by horsepower and BTU output. Standard sizes are 3.5 hp @ 75,000 BTU; 5 hp @ 100,000 BTU and 6 hp @ 125,000 BTU. Heat pumps are normally located next to the pool pump and filter on a concrete slab.

Size Heater Required

Gas Heaters are rated by BTU output, and range from 75,000 BTU to 450,000 BTU. Gas heaters are normally located next to the pool pump and filter on a concrete slab.

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Each pool & home is unique.  The size of the heater is based on several factors, including:  the size & shape of the pool; pool shading (i.e. trees, screen enclosure); geographic location; swimming season and pool temperature desired; windy conditions; and for solar, the direction of the roof (south, east, west or flat). The size of the heater will determine the temperature, swimming season, and length of time to heat the pool. It is very important to properly size the heater for good performance.

Keep in mind that a Thermal Pool Cover is recommended for all heating systems. Heating a pool without a cover is like heating a house without a roof...the heat just goes right out the top. Without a pool cover, the cost of operating a Heat Pump or Gas Heater is doubled, and a Solar Heater's effectiveness is dramatically decreased. For convenience a roller may be added to ease placement and removal of the cover.  If a pool cover is not be used, the size of the heater must be increased by 100%. Pool covers range in cost from $48 to $118 for residential pools; rollers start at $179.

Solar Pool Heaters

Heat Pump Heaters

Gas Heaters

Longevity and Maintenance

A quality Solar Heater will typically last 10 to 20 years. They are very low maintenance. Most systems have a 10 year warranty on the panels.  

Longevity and Maintenance

Heat Pumps will last between 5 and 10 years or more, depending on the quality.  Because heat pumps are a mechanical device with many moving and electrical parts, they require periodic service by a A/C technician. Warranties range from 1 to 10 years on parts and/or labor.

Longevity and Maintenance

Gas Heaters typically last 5 years or more. Due to the high operating temperature inside a gas heater, maintenance may be more frequent, and major repairs can be costly. Warranties range from 1 to 5 years, usually only on parts.

Do-it-yourself Installations

All three types of pool heaters can be installed by the handyman, although it is strongly recommended that electric and gas hookups be made by a professional contractor. The typical installation will require 1 to 2 days for solar, less than 1 day for heat pumps, and about half a day for gas.

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